Redemtion Song

My dear Brittany, my dear Chevara,

You have helped me sing, my song of freedom, when all I thought I had, were sad, sad songs.  Thank you Brother Bob Marley for that.  I’ll take it from here. 

On August 26th of last year, I pulled up to a federal prison camp to surrender myself, or self-surrender.  Before I got out of the car, I made a few phone calls, one to Chevara.  Her gift to me as I relinquished my right to be free was the opportunity to use my voice.  She encouraged, damn near insisted, that I write her letters so that my story could be heard. I embraced that present and the harder I squeezed, the more it oozed self-reflection, love and opportunity.

At times reflecting on myself looked a lot like my lack of acceptance of another inmate.  Sometimes it sounded like the voice of a Baltimore drug dealer speaking with a tongue laced with venom.  “Who the fuck are you Claudia?!”  Who was I?  Who am I?  I didn’t know, but I did remember Chevara’s gift.  I ran to get to my pen and my notebook and began to write. 

I had several mis-starts. “Hey Girl!”  No, that sounds like we’re teenagers. “What’s good Che?” Nah, I don’t call her that.  It sounds kinda fake. Finally, I settle on, “Hey babe.  I’m here doing well, and I think I’m losing my mind.”  I go on and on from there, giving examples of the disappearance of my intellect.  Other ramblings of other things and ending with the conclusions I had come up with since the commencement of that correspondence.  All ways and at all times she was a vessel of acceptance.  She accepted my letters from the Postman.  She accepted my reflection as the work I had to do for myself.  She replied with a simple, short, intense email.  “I’ve received your letter.  Your penmanship is beautiful.  I cried as I read it.  I love you.”

With so much time in isolation all I could do was take another look into my mental mirror, but this time with my friend’s words as my rose colored lenses. That mirror slowly began to show me an image I had been missing since I was a very young child.  All this time I had been wearing the dollar store shades which caused my eyes to deteriorate and my ability to see my beautiful self began to fade. The words of my mother, “You are an evil child,” played in my head so many times before that email. I never questioned her because her tone was low and intentional. Anyway, mommy said it, so it must be true.

Loving, caring Claudia made her final exit when her daddy left.  In a pain-filled tantrum, Minnie Lou Clodfelter Shivers looked her directly in her eyes and spoke matter-of-factly.  “I only had you to keep your dad and you couldn’t even do that.”  With that, the Daughter of Innocence was transformed into the Mother of Self-Destruction and now sat in isolation in West Virginia.

Remembering those words, I again got out my pen, my notebook, and wrote an urgent message to Chevara.  “Hey babe.  I am here, doing well.  I am just afraid that if I love gang affiliated Angie you all won’t love me when I get back.”  She emailed yet another volcanic response, “I love you beautiful spirit.”  The email was hot.  It burned my useless, protective layer of self-doubt to ash and produced fertile soil.  My love was able to grow. 

On July 7th of this year, I went to my cube and regifted Chevara’s gift to me.  I got out my pen and my notebook and scribed a note to my Bunkie and Kelsie, my two PBF’s (Prison Best Friends).  “As long as I can speak, you will always have a voice.”

As friends do, all of mine kept their promises.  They welcomed me home on July 8th with enthusiastic caution.  They checked on me and brought me the resources I needed.  Chevara brought Brittany.  Brittany told me I looked like Rakim and handed me a microphone.  Now I am a microphone fiend.  You can witness my addiction to sharing my story for the healing of others and using my voice to bring attention to issues that make us feel ashamed, by going to The Winters Group website and watching the podcast on “The Inclusion Solution”.  My sisters honored me by helping me sing my song of freedom, my redemption song, because that’s all I ever had.

Stay Woke

It was so weird. I had no idea I was even sleep and all of a sudden I was rudely brought to rise from the strong heaving of my chest and the pain in my temple. The aching was sharp, hard, and abrupt. I had been in the throws of a nightmare. Where are the Geto Boys when you need them?

I will describe it as accurately possible without having a master hypnotist around.

I was walking around at the park with my brother when I saw some of the women I had been bidding with for the past ten and a half months. I almost didn’t recognize them because Neka had on make-up and Summers-Grace had on skin-tight pants. (She was always talking about what she gone do to some man somewhere so I guess that’s why she was there). I don’t remember who all I saw, but there were at least eight of them. I said, “Dang, all of y’all got out at the same time?” They responded with terms I had become familiar with in camp. We laughed and chopped it up for a little bit. I got comfortable.
Right then my ankle monitor began vibrating non-stop. I immediately took off running looking for the nearest phone so that I could call and report to the halfway house. I needed to reassure them that I was not trying to be deviant in any way. Before I could find a phone, a Black man came out of nowhere. He was driving a golf cart. “Ms. Shivers, get in and go with me.” I walked so slowly towards him it was like I was trying to obey him and run for my freedom at the same time. “Where are we going? I was just trying to call you.” He ignored my question and called some White man on his walkie talkie. “I got her. Where do you want me to take her?” The voice responded, “Bring her in.”
Starts hyperventilating… “No, you don’t have to take me. I was just going home. I won’t come back out.” The pangs in my chest got worse. Tears flooded my face. He did not even look at me. He just faced forward. “I have no choice,” he said. Me: “Where are y’all taking me?” “I don’t know. You’re just gonna be doing the tour.” He meant I would not have an official designation. For the next seven months I would be going from camp to camp not knowing where I would be, or how long I would be there.

Oh my God, I cannot do this. I barely did the last bid. I had to plead louder because he could not possibly be picking up what I was putting down. “I can’t do it. I can’t go back.” I fell to my knees when I saw the White man. “I can’t. Just give me one more chance. I won’t come back outside. Please. Please.”
And just like that I was back at home in my bed, face buried in my tear-soaked pillow. Head pounding like there were worries trying to escape from right behind my eyes. Chest feeling like it was recovering from an anime intense blow. I was still trying to catch my breath.
I sat up trying to get my bearings. It was midnight so I chose not to call anyone. Anyway, I don’t know that I would have made sense. I did send a couple of texts, though. One to remind myself to journal about this dream. My friend was always busy so I knew she would not respond, but would honor my spirit by keeping the text in case I needed it again. The second one to the night owl who was usually good for saying something that distracts me from my current situation.

I still stayed up though. For the past month I have been staying up until I see the sun rise just so I would not have time to dream. I sleep in the daytime. I fell for all of that “get some rest” nonsense this week. I had not graduated from college, but now I had graduated from conscious to subconscious panic attacks. The School of Hard Knocks made sure I got that degree. I should have just stayed up.

Recovery came in the form of Andrea, one of my daughters, coming in from work. “Andrea, will you bring me some Advil?” My salvation, they will relieve the pain, but I’m still staying up.
Picks up phone, starts “I’m Home” playlist because somewhere between Sinead Harnett and H.E.R. I will find my way back. “Cause I feel so comfortable with you,” H.E.R. “Taste of your lips is still fresh,” Sinead.

Now a song is coming from inside of me. Well, more like melodic words that remind me who I am.
“Silent nights
In silent fights
Single woman
Single Mom
Dodging one more
Single bomb.
It’s cool.
The fire makes my skin glow.
The ashes make my hair grow.
That boom sounded
Kinda ill though.
Small things
To a giant.
Somebody hand me my crown.”

Keep in Touch

“I fell in love with you, girl I miss us.”  I’m singing along with Torey Lanez and Bryson Tiller and making “Keep In Touch” a love song to myself.  Self, taking yourself for granted will no longer be tolerated.  This is the last day you create a world of doubt as a safe haven from beauty and success.  This is the last day you demand more of you than just simply learning to have gratitude for your presence in the world.

All week I have been trying to come up with something deep and reflective to share with you all.  I felt it was my responsibility.  I needed to send you evidence that I am still worthy of your attention, positive attention… 

…I got nothing. 

I have been working on learning to enjoy my journey, but this is the part that always gives me the most trouble.  I spent many nights away at camp thinking about how I was going to practice patience and gratitude when I got home.  I prayed, “God give me one more chance.  I will get it right this time.”  But what if I don’t?  I prayed this prayer several times before.  Once when I totaled that Acura back in 2006 with four of my five children in the car and again in 2014 when I found out I had breast cancer. 

Every morning since July 9, 2020 I sit up in my bed with the intention of keeping my promise to God.  I make a to do list and start ticking away at it.  Find a way to make money that supports my family and speaks to my passion.  Check.  Enroll in school and classes to make sure I am highly qualified and prepared for new opportunities as they come to me.  Check.  Spend time with the kids, check on my friends, the list goes on and I update it once a week.  I never added self-care to the list.  I have not practiced enough gratitude and now I feel my patience leaving me. 

Now that I have written the previous paragraph I realize that what is holding me back from the level of success I deserve is my refusal to accept that there is a time to sow and a time to reap.  I have to remind myself constantly to have gratitude for being able to turn the soil and plant the seeds.  Today I am grateful for having the seeds to sow, the land to plant it in, and the strength to be able to do it. 

I read something on social media once.  It was, “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You can’t handle the storm.’  The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”  For some reason that hit my spirit just the right way. As they say, that meme hit different when you going through something. 

Fate is defined as “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.”  Since I looked up that definition, I got the definition of storm as well.  “A tumultuous reaction; an uproar or controversy”.  Hell, I might as well leave the definition of warrior here while I am at it, just to be thorough.  Warrior is defined as “a brave or experienced soldier or fighter.” 

My analysis, fate has no business whispering to me.  Fate does not even exist.  All that exists is what happens in truth and love and the fruit that grows from their union.  The storm, well, I am that.  The beautiful, tumultuous, necessary uproar that makes magical change happen.  Warrior, there was never any question about that.  I am brave. I am experienced. I am a fighter. 

What you have read are entries to a journal I no longer use because I have a platform now.  There was no particular purpose.  It is a mental cleansing so that mental and emotional toxins do not overwhelm my body and skew the intention of my work. 

Thank you for listening.  Thank you for the love.  Leave a message if you need me. I will be in the mirror having a meeting with someone that I love, but have neglected for a long time.

(Presses play, closes eyes, takes a deep breath and just listens. “I fell in love with you, I fell in love. Girl, I miss us.  Nah, I won’t front, got me so sprung.  ‘Cause you, you’re one of one…”)

A Love Letter to Love

Dear Love,

When you called me this morning Teyana Taylor began to sing to me.  “Wake Up Love” she said as your warm, calm tone filled my ears.  Ahhh, there it is, that security that my soul has felt since our first conversation.  I felt the protection in your voice, and it comforted me as I focused on hearing you with my intellect and not my insecurities.  You called me pretty early so I knew it was something important.  You even vibrated my smart watch to make sure I answered.  “Hello” I said more out of habit than of consciousness. 

I listened intently as you prepared me for the damage fear had left for me in the comments section as I slept.  I hadn’t been resting well and so in a fog of sleep deprivation, I listened.  I listened.  I listened.  I listened.  I listened and out of curiosity, went to social media to see what was so impressionable that it called you to action.

I first read the preface you had written to me.  You started your post by acknowledging the purity in my purpose.  You told everybody that I offered “simply reflections” and expected “no response”.  You told everybody, every single one of those 4,012 friends and however many friends they had, that I only asked that you acknowledge me.  My writing was my therapy, your ear a sanctuary for my pain, my thoughts, my story. 

Fear sat there like Huey Newton in that Black Panther poster, holding a spear in one hand and a gun in the other.  Fear was right there under your words, and it smiled me.  It had been expected me.  I was welcomed with open arms.  A feeling of darkness washed over me and I felt the familiarity of lack and self-doubt.  Fear hugged me with a stench of resentment and a strength that did not allow me to fall as my legs became weak.  I would only become a shell of myself believing that my vulnerability was my tormentor rather than my salvation.  I read the words that fear left for me.  Fear called me a liar, told me that I was not deserving of you or the table that you had prepared for me in the presence of mine enemies.

And as you do Love, you made an observation and spoke to my soul.    You sang me the words that Sister Michelle Obama had written for me to read when I was away at camp.   “Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.  It is vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.”.  Equipped with the blessing of that remembrance you called me back.  I realized that my self-doubt had gotten on those automatic steps on its way up to meet with fear so that the fate of failure could finally take me out. 

A tear fell, “Love, I am afraid,” I cried. 

You kissed my forehead, my mind opened.  You touched my ear with your tongue, and removed the barrier of toxic wax that allowed only destructive sounds to enter.  You rubbed my lips with your words, “repeat after me,” you said.  “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.  Herein lies the peace of God.”  It was “A Course in Miracles”.  You embraced my reconstructed breasts and my heart became armored with the protection of my ancestors.  A warrior’s heart.  You knelt and massaged my feet.  “Your walk by faith will be long.  It will be hard.  No matter what, I will always be with you,” you said.

Love is God.  God is Love.  God called me this morning.  Herein lies the peace of love.  I am at peace and know my purpose.  I love this peace.  I became Puffy and remixed my sister’s words from “Becoming”.  Success is a feeling long before it is an actual result.  It is vulnerability that breeds with self-confidence, and then is escalated, often deliberately by Love.

Love, thank you for calling me this morning.  Thank you for waking me up Love.

With absolute sincerity and infinite gratitude,

Claudia L. Shivers

“Don’t Forget Us When You Leave”

“Don’t Forget Us When You Leave.” – Shirita James

With a back East, down South North Carolina twang Rere said to me, “Claudia, why you ain’t tell me you was leaving?”  Her words asked a question.  Her tone held an accusation.  She knew the answer. 

I was coming out of the bathroom with my head down, not paying attention, pretty much sleep.  Against prison rules, but I just wanted to forget where I was for a minute.  Forget these damn khakis.  Forget these grays (sweats).  Forget these bright orange moo moos.  I just hated it so much.  I created momentary amnesia as often as I could.  My mind doing a thousand things and none at all, all at once.  I just didn’t see her at first. 

Her inquisition caught me off guard.  Boss ladies didn’t talk much in the bing so believe me when I say, this act was significant.  Feeling cornered I did what I had been trained to do.  I erected my head, met her gaze, and lied.  “Girl, I thought you knew.”  She sized me up.  Looked firmly into my soul’s windows and held me without a touch.  Her response, “Don’t forget about me when you leave.” 

As quietly as she appeared, she disappeared.  Magic.

My lack of consciousness had been cured with a dose of accountability.  An old wound opened in my stomach.  That infection turned into fire inside my chest.  Because it could not escape my mouth, every apology I had never given my Mom came out of my eyes.  Before anybody could see a thug cry, I went to my cube and put on my headphones.  “Nobody Else” by Summer Walker.  “Come on sis, you gotta make the song sound so deep?” I thought.  In a matter of fact tone she just replied “I can’t see them coming down your eyes so I gotta make this song cry.”  She sounded like Big Brotha Jay-Z when she said it though.  Prison offers a safe place to hurt but no security to show it.

I thought I had learned to tell a necessary lie, but always, and by any means necessary, live the truth.  Now I doubted my entire preceding reality.  Had I been living a lie and telling the truth?  Damn, I been doing it so long I forgot which one it is.  Now I had to figure it out. 

Shirita James, Rere, had a 135 month bid.  She had been down about 36 by the time I got there.  This interaction occurred when I had been down eight.  She had 100 months left.  One hundred months.  Eight years.  No, I didn’t want to think about it.  I had every plan to forget.  I would never think about the friends I was leaving behind.  The staff always said that there were no friends in prison, but I would have never survived without them.  These sisters had offered me comfort when a community that I had done so much for had thrown me away.  My value to them at this point was as just a salacious article in the Winston-Salem Journal.  I had become “North Carolina Tax Preparer”, or “Winston-Salem Woman” to an ungrateful, nosey, and cowardly part of my previous community.  They must have had a hero reporter, Super Scribe, because that article was written faster than a speeding bullet.  So many had forgotten who I really was, so I did the same.  That’s that amnesia again. 

My new village reminded me though.  “Bitch, you a whole woman. They can’t treat you any kind of way. We federal.”  I now knew how Neo felt in the Matrix.  Morpheus was an outcast, a deviant.  Because he was fearless though, he was The One who had awakened The One. 

I can no longer continue to hold this ache in my bowels.  It just gets regurgitated anyway.  Emotional Bulimia, an emotional disorder involving the distortion of one’s image and an obsessive desire to no longer carry the weight that remembering holds.  It does not heal itself.  Pain was trying to make me forget my own Momma.  The woman who walked her children to the Public Library because she didn’t have a car, but she did have the determination and desire to give her children the gift of education.  Pain lied and told me it was ok to forget because she sold drugs, and made mistakes, and was unapologetic about it.  She was fearless.  She was Rere.  She died in pain and misunderstood.  Pain killed her once and I was going to let it kill her again by forgetting her when she left.  “Don’t forget me when I leave.”

Disregard and neglect are the blessings to the meals that trauma serves for dinner.  Amen.  Society has too often given us permission to forget and rewards us for inaction and silence. 

Today, I needed a minute.  The pain comes first thing in the morning.  Now I embrace it.  It reminds me that I am alive.  It calls me to purpose.  Right now, bravery sounds like “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion, the remix with Beyoncé.  (Cause she got that shit from Tina).

I will not forget about you when I leave.  I will not forget me when I leave.  I will not forget.  I will not forget.  I will tell everyone about you.  I will tell everyone about all of you.

I am a Truth Teller.

Industrial Complex Giving Me a Complex

What is Prison?

Do you know what prison is?  It is the constant desire to be anywhere except where you are.  Only, if you go somewhere else, especially back to where you used to be, how will you belong?  Prison is a loss of identity.  Who are you now?  It’s like Sam Cooke was killing me softly when he was “strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words.”  He told y’all that it was “too hard living, but I was afraid to die, because I don’t know what’s out there, above the sky.”  I don’t know why he told my secrets, and he told them before I was born. I couldn’t even stop him.  How did he even know?

Prison is what put that look in Brother Malcolm’s eyes.  That look of determination, love, and sadness.  The look of the highly qualified intensive care surgeon.  That look when you know you have to wake up a million people in a short period of time because it means the difference between life and death of a nation.  And the ones you need to wake up the most have been put into a socially induced coma to minimize the swelling from the lifetime of pain they have experienced so they have a fighting chance… Or their love language won’t turn into the language of pain and cause an allergic reaction of a breakout of riots.

Prison is the devil’s answer to my righteous prayers.  I called out to God and asked Him for relief from the messy life I had ignorantly created.  Lucifer replied with a knife in my back so deep that I begged for death.  Just when I got used to the pain, he pulled it out halfway and sent me to the house and asked me for gratitude. 

Well, no matter what prison is, I am a survivor, a winner, a truth teller.  I just need someone to listen.  I am a calm, casual conversation.  Now I need you to be an open, excited audience because I am just getting started.

Allow Me To Introduce Myself

I am Claudia L. Shivers. I am a breast cancer survivor.  I am the single mother of 5 very intelligent, beautiful Black children.  I am a grandmother.  I am a revolutionary.  I am a freedom fighter.  I am a lover of all of God’s creations.  I am afraid and I am afraid to be afraid and so I am courageous because that’s fearlessness’ younger sister.  Oh, and I am a sister. 

I want to tell you who I am based on my pedigree, but I don’t know who that is.  I mean, I am the daughter of Minnie Lou Clodfelter and Lawrence Edward Shivers, Sr.  I am the granddaughter of Liza and Hollis and Walter and Queen Esther, but only Walter and my dad still survive.  My mom sold drugs, well pain pills to feed her addiction, but she was an amazing mom until the addiction.  My dad gambled and manipulated women their entire marriage, but he empowered me with emotional intelligence.  They were both always my biggest cheerleaders.  They always encouraged me to learn more, do more, be more.  They reminded me every day that I could be and do absolutely anything.  So, here I am today, a social justice advocate, a business woman, a wonderful mother, a loving and dedicated friend, a whole beast.

Hold on a minute, Sister Giovanni is sending me a message from our Universal Mother.  I feel her breath on my neck as she whispers in my ear. “Sister Warrior Queen, this is not a struggle.  This is an Ego Trip.  This is when you turn yourself into yourself and become Jesus.  Men will intone your loving name.  YOU are the one who will save.”

So, the short answer to your question is, I AM READY.